Doctors help fainting victims at a hospital in Luanda. (Radio Ecclesia)
Doctors help fainting victims at a hospital in Luanda. (Radio Ecclesia)

Angola detains journalist over report on mass fainting

New York, August 5, 2011–Angolan authorities should explain Tuesday’s arrest and incommunicado detention of a radio journalist for reporting on a nationwide wave of mass fainting of people, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

“The arrest of journalist Adão Tiago highlights the Angolan government’s obsession with controlling information and dictating the narrative instead of focusing on addressing a very serious national crisis,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on Angolan authorities to explain Tiago’s detention immediately.”

Since April, more than 800 people, mostly teenage schoolchildren, have fainted after complaining of sore throats and eyes, shortness of breath, and coughs, the Catholic Church-run station Radio Ecclesia reported. Amid news reports of unidentified toxic substances, Interior Minister Sebastião Martins ordered investigations into the cause last week, and on Tuesday, Rui Falcão Pinto de Andrade, a spokesman for the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, asked citizens who were able to help address the problem in any way to come forward, according to state media reports.

The same day, four police officers in the capital, Luanda, picked up Radio Ecclesia reporter Adão Tiago over a July 29 report about the fainting of some 20 students at a local school where he teaches English, according to local journalists. Tiago was arrested without a warrant in front of his students, driven to a police station without explanation, and detained incommunicado for 23 hours, he later told CPJ. A police interrogator questioned the journalist about why he reported the incident, he said. According to CPJ research, Radio Ecclesia works under intense government pressure and self-censorship.

On the day of Tiago’s arrest, Rui Pires, a physician working for the health ministry, blamed the fainting on “mass hysteria” and sensational media reporting, according to news reports.